The effort, spearheaded by RUWA members Constance Li (Class of 2012), Jamie Platt (Class of 2014), Cristina Gallo (Class of 2014) and Vegetarian Society of Rutgers University president, Katherine Schwartzer ( Class of 2014), began in 2010 and concluded with the passing of a resolution at the Rutgers Board of Governors’ meeting earlier this month.
“We chose to focus on the cage-free egg campaign because of the sheer number of animals that it impacts,” Li said in a statement issued by RUWA. “This is a cruelty issue that nearly everybody agrees on already, it was just a matter of getting information out there and making the budget work for students and administrators.”
"Thanks to the organized effort and hard work of our students, especially Rutgers United for the Welfare of Animals (RUWA), Rutgers University Dining Services is happy to join a growing list of universities that have made the move to serve 100 percent cage free eggs," Joe Charette, Executive Director of Dining Services at Rutgers, said.
Charette, who has been with Rutgers Dining Services for over 24 years and has served as Executive Director the past two years, worked closely with the students who advocated for this change to provide information about the volume and costs of eggs used by Dining Services, Rutgers University spokesman E.J. Miranda said.
Charette said the change would be in effect when the students return to campus this fall.
Under the guidance of The Humane League, RUWA started the campaign in 2010-11 with the collection of 3,000 signatures for a petition. A university-wide ballot initiative passed that year, Platt said. All students were asked one question: Would students be willing to pay a higher rate for cage-free eggs?
Last year, the RUWA contingent and University Dining Services agreed on a second referendum. This time, the questions were targeted at those with meal plans because they were the ones who would be most impacted by the change, financially, Platt said.
Students were asked which plan they had, proof of enrollment at Rutgers and how much more they would be willing to pay.
“By categorizing students by meal plan we were able to see if what we charged per each meal plan bracket was acceptable to the students who would be paying the increase,” Platt said via email. “The results showed that an overwhelming majority, 99% of meal plan holders, were in favor of the switch to cage free eggs, and students were willing to pay 2-3 times more than the actual amount it would cost to go completely cage-free.”
Most students were accepting of the new proposal, created by Rutgers Student Body President Paul Sokolov. Rutgers University administration then recommended the referendum to the Board of Governors in the spring.
“Students who purchase meal plans have a voice on how their dollars are spent,” Charette said. “More than 4,000 students who are on university meal plans signed a petition asking Dining Services to adopt the use of cage-free eggs. This is what our students clearly believe is the right thing to do.”
"We are very proud to have been able to play a part in having Rutgers go cage-free,” Sokolov said.
According to Charette, the eggs will now be sourced from a variety of local farms that belong to a co-op.
“I was impressed by the students' passion for their cause and for their willingness to do the hard work to present their case and bring it to a successful conclusion,” Nancy Winterbaur, Vice President for University Budgeting, said.
The Humane League is a national animal rights protection group that has worked with institutions around the country, including Harvard University, Drexel University, and the chain Au Bon Pain, to phase out battery-cage eggs, Platt said.
“The campaigners at Rutgers should be proud of this victory,” David Coman-Hidy, director of The Humane League, said. “A university of this size making the switch will have a big impact on tens of thousands of hens over the coming years.”
Environmental organizations, including Natural Resources Defense Council, have deemed battery-cage farms unsustainable because of their negative impact on air and water quality. The European Union and Switzerland have banned battery cages, as have select states in America, including California and Michigan. Ohio has a moratorium on the construction of new egg-building facilities.